full sun, part sun
Bloom Period and Seasonal Color
fall in colors of pink, lilac or white
Mature Height x Spread
4 to 6 inches x 6 to 12 inches
attracts beneficials, drought tolerant, deer resistant
Most gardeners are familiar with spring-flowering bulbs such as daffodils and tulips, but there is a group of fall flowering bulbs that grow well in New England, providing color in fall when you least expect it. Autumn crocus or saffron crocus is one type of fall bulb you can grow in our region, but a more dramatically colored, fall flowering bulb is the colchicum. Colchicum is also called naked ladies because in fall, only the flowers emerge from the oil. It’s quite a surprise to see up to 6, bright single or double petaled blossoms with yellow anthers popping up around your flowering mums. The flowers die back after blooming. In spring the lance-shaped leaves emerge for a month of growth before dying back.
Where, When and How to Plant
Colchicum is hardy to zone 4. In colder parts of our region spread bark mulch over the area where the bulbs are to protect them from winter. Plant colchicum bulbs purchased from the local garden center in late summer in well-drained soil in full to part sun. The sunnier the location for colchicums, the less likely they will flop over when flowering. Amend the soil well with compost. Plant bulbs 4 to 6 inches deep spaced 6 to 12 inches apart.
Spread a small handful of a bulb fertilizer in the planting hole. Keep the bulbs well watered the first fall. Protect the flowers during wet periods from slugs and snails by placing a beer trap, sprinkling iron phosphate organic bait or spreading crushed oyster or seashells near the flowers.
Regional Advice and Care
Sprinkle fertilizer around plants in spring to encourage more leafy growth that will feed the bulb and produce better flowering in fall. Colchicum will slowly spread over time. To produce more bulbs for your garden, dig and divide bulbs in mid summer when they’re dormant. Colchicum is a good pollen source for bees in fall when little else is available for them. Mark the plant’s location so you don’t mistakenly weed out the nondescript foliage in spring when it comes up thinking it’s a weed.
Companion Planting and Design
Plant colchicum among low growing evergreens, such as creeping junipers, in front of a perennial flower border or near shrubs for a late season show. Plant them in an area protected from winds so the flowers last longer. Plant bulbs next to other fall bloomers, such as sedum, to provide some complimentary color. Plant bulbs close to a walkway or lawn so you can enjoy the brightly colored flowers.
‘Waterlily’ is a double-flowered pink variety with 6 to 8 inch diameter flowers. ‘Alba’ has single white flowers, while ‘Albaplenum has double white blooms. ‘Rosy Dawn’ and ‘Dick ‘Trotter’ both feature single rose-colored flowers with a white center.
Excerpted from my book, New England Getting Started Garden Guide.